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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Maybe I'm just not cut out for administration...

I'm stressed out. Last week, I was having stomach pains and I swear, I'm worried I may have an ulcer. But when someone asks me WHY I'm so stressed, I'm not quite sure what to say. I just have this feeling of being overwhelmed, that I'm trying to juggle too many different balls and am constantly worried about dropping one. But at the same time, when I sit down and really look at everything I need to do (I am the queen of to-do lists!), I am pretty sure it is all under control. So why do I feel like it isn't?

The only answer I can come up with is the meetings. Oh, the endless meetings! As a normal faculty member, pretty much the only set items on my calendar were my classes, my office hours and the occasional department meeting. But now, as CTL Director, my calendar is suddenly FULL of meetings and other scheduled events. Of course, there are the roughly weekly CTL events, but also biweekly meetings with Instructional Technology Services, biweekly meetings with the other Directors in my division, monthly meetings with the Assessment committee, random meetings with people across campus to discuss possible collaborations, meetings with individual instructors who want teaching advice, quarterly meetings with the Division budget person, and semi-regular meetings with my Dean and Associate Dean. Oh, and because I'm also now on the Faculty Senate, I also have monthly Senate meetings and three other monthly meetings for Senate-related committees and groups. There are many days when my calendar has more time blocked out as 'busy' than 'available' - last week, I had two days where I had over-lapping meetings solid from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Even on relatively light meeting days, there's generally at least an hour or two blocked out (on top of classes and office hours). And because finding a time during the semester when more than two academics can meet is like herding cats, a lot of my meetings are at times like 10-11am and 2-3pm, which is incredibly inconvenient for trying to get anything else done.

I had no idea that dealing with this change in how my time is structured would be so hard. It isn't hard in the same way that teaching is hard - when I get home from a day of teaching, I'm mentally exhausted but when I get home from a day of meetings, I'm stressed. Stressed because the meetings both prevent me from crossing much off my to-do list, and they generate ideas and action items that make my to-do list even longer. And although I'm often able to reply to emails and get a few things done in the short periods in between meetings, I just don't feel as productive because everything is done in short bursts. On the rare days when I have a full morning of uninterrupted time, I'm amazed at how much more productive I feel, even if the amount I get done isn't really all that different.

When faculty talk about moving into administration, it is often with a negative tone (as Dean Dad points out, the imagery of going to "the dark side" is pretty pervasive). I've seen lots of articles with advice about making the move into administration and the changes in perspective that can accompany it. And one of my concerns about taking the job as CTL Director was whether I would get sucked into that darkness, losing my perspective as a faculty member. But while I'm definitely seeing the validity in everything that I've read, both good and bad, this change in how my time is structured was not something I had anticipated and it's a much bigger challenge.

I almost decided not to post this - I realize I sound like I'm just whining. But I'm curious if other academics have any advice. My husband, who works in the private sector, is sympathetic but I know he doesn't quite 'get it'. When I try to explain it, he points out that this is what most people's days are like - he often goes from one conference call to another all day long and gets frustrated that he can't get his other work done. And I know he's right. But after so many years of having the kind of flexibility that makes being an academic such a great job, it doesn't really help that "everyone else deals with this too". I'm just not sure how to adjust without ending up with an ulcer. Any advice from my dear readers?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Catching up...

Thank goodness for Spring Break! Between late February and end of March, I went to three different conferences (one in San Diego so I didn't have to travel anywhere, thank goodness) so I've spent all of this week just getting caught up... I learned so many cool things and my head has been swimming will too many ideas to manage but let me try to at least share a couple things with you all...
  • At the CSU Symposium on University Teaching - where the conference theme was 'GRIT' - the pre-conference keynote was by Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes from UNLV's Transparency Project. The main gist was the importance of helping students understand how and why we ask them to do the things we ask them to do. The discussion was particularly interesting to me, given my last post about being more transparent in my writing class. 
  • Jesse Vestermark, a librarian at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, gave a presentation on helping students critically evaluate online sources - also incredibly timely since I was discussing that very topic in my writing class the following week! Jesse described a great activity where he gives students pieces of paper with different website characteristics printed on them (like 'features strong opinions' or 'company website' or '.edu domain') and has students place them on a 'spectrum of reliability' at the front of the room, then discuss. I tried it in my class that week and it led to a really great discussion as students debated why different factors mattered in different circumstances.
  • Last week, I attended the AAC&U's conference on Diversity, Learning and Student Success. Every session I attended was really useful but one that stands out was learning about threshold concepts and wicked problems, which are part of a CSU initiative to re-design GE courses. Threshold concepts are "core concepts that transform our ways of thinking in a particular discipline" - apparently, economists did some of the early on threshold concepts, which made it easier for me to understand what the presenters were talking about since they kept using opportunity cost as an example :-).
  • And if I didn't have enough food for thought from the last five weeks, registration is open for the 2015 National Conference on Teaching and Research in Economic Education (CTREE), which will be May 27-29 in Minneapolis. As always, the program is packed with so many great sessions that I'm going to go nuts trying to figure out which ones to attend. Hope to see you there!